Concise Film SLR Opinions

The following are my concise opinions about various Nikon film SLR bodies. I'll cover the following models:

  • Modern Manuals: FM-10, FE-10, FM2n, and FM3a
  • The most recent Pro models: F4, F5, F6
  • The most recent Consumer/Prosumer models: F60, F65, F70, F75, F80, F90x, F100, N60, N65, N70, N75, N80, and N90s

For each camera I'll give a quick synopsis of my opinion of it, it's reliability, a recommendation (if any), and a bottom line. I'll also point to my full reviews if you want more. Note also that I wrote Complete Guides to a number of these cameras, and they're still available from the Books menu at the top of the site.

  • FM-10—The FM-10 is actually a Cosina-made, all-manual body that sports a Nikon F mount. Yes, it has a plastic body, but it's the lightest Nikon film body still available. Yes, it's an older design, but it's also field proven and reliable. Galen Rowell was known to use one on some of his more adventurous runs and climbs. Unfortunately, it's usually only sold as a kit with a cheap 35-70mm f/3.5-4.8 zoom lens, which you probably won't want. The FM-10 is one of two film bodies still being offered by Nikon (as I write this in early 2012). Reliable. RecommendedBottom line: If you can't afford an FM2n and want a new body, this is what you should buy. Surprisingly, you don't give up much, especially if you don't abuse your equipment.
  • FE-10—The FE-10 is virtually identical to the FM-10, except that the FE version incorporates an aperture-priority exposure mode. All the comments about the FM-10 (above) apply to this model, too. No longer produced; only available used. Reliable. No longer produced; only available used. Bottom line: If you can't afford an FM3a, consider the FE-10 if aperture-priority exposure mode appeals to you; otherwise consider the FM-10.
  • FM2n—The traditional choice of Nikon manual focus users who want a simple, mechanical, light camera, the FM2n has been around in one version or another since 1977 (the FM). A little heavier than the FM-10, the FM2n has a bomb-proof metal body (mine sported a number of dings and dents from years of backcountry use), the ability to still shoot without batteries, plus fast flash sync and top shutter speeds (1/250 and 1/4000, respectively). A simple, workhorse of a camera that really only lacks a spot meter and better TTL flash support from making it perfect. Full Review of the Nikon FM2n. No longer produced; only available used. Very reliable. Recommended. Bottom line: The gold standard of light, manual focus bodies. Only the Olympus OM-4 was better, in my opinion. Concise instructions
  • FM3a—The replacement for the venerable FM2n, the FM3a was announced at PMA in February 2001 with first shipments in Spring 2001. Two things stood out in this updated model: better flash handling (including an automatic flash fill button!), and a dual mode shutter that works electronically in aperture-preferred mode and mechanically in manual mode (or when batteries are exhausted). If Nikon had included spot metering, I'd have traded in my FM2n. No longer produced; only available used. Very reliable. RecommendedBottom line: A little pricey for the feature set, but clearly a step forward from the FM2n.
  • F4—If you're looking for a top of the line camera for manual focus lenses, find a used F4s in good shape and buy the MB-20 battery holder for it to trim down the size and weight. (You probably don't need the faster frame advance the MB-21 adds; and with MF lenses, you won't be draining the batteries because the AF motor won't be active.) Yes, the F3HP is lighter, but the F4 adds matrix metering, spot metering, better flash support, and higher flash sync and top shutter speeds. Plus, you've got the ability to pop on an AF lens if you want to, or use the viewfinder's focus indicators to help with manual focusing. The F4 is arguably the best camera Nikon has made, and while its autofocus system is no longer state-of-the-art, it's still workable. With used bodies in excellent condition selling for well under US$400, the F4 is a bargain. No longer produced; only available used. Extremely reliable. RecommendedBottom line: The top-of-the-line for manual focus aficionados. If Nikon had stuck its latest AF system into this body, they'd have never needed the F5.
  • F5—It doesn't get much better than this with Nikon film bodies, as about the only thing you can fault the camera on is its inability to use matrix metering with MF lenses. The F5 extracts two penalties, though: (1) it's the heaviest, bulkiest Nikon film body you can buy; and (2) the F5 is a Conehead when it comes to batteries--it consumes mass quantities. Still, there isn't a better matrix meter on the planet, the autofocus system (shared with the F100) is fast and reliable, and the camera is just plain rugged. The F5 was my camera of choice unless I was being weight conscious. Full Review of the Nikon F5. No longer produced; only available used. Reliable. Bottom line: This camera is a handful, but you can't really fault its picture-taking. byThom Complete Guide Available
  • F6—Top of the heap. Really. The surprise introduction of a film SLR in the digital SLR era caught everyone by surprise. Essentially, the F6 is a D2h/D2x without the integrated vertical grip and adopted to use film. That means it has some of Nikon's best autofocus, metering, and other systems. The rear LCD gives you a mini menu system to set complex and advanced features. Smaller and lighter than the F5, the F6 would easily be my choice of camera if I were still shooting film. The only drawback: battery choice (you can fix that by buying the optional vertical grip). Full Review of the Nikon F6. Still produced (50 handmade a month in 2012), and available new. Reliable. Recommended. Bottom line: Nothing really to fault other that it would have been nice if it had come out earlier, before film really was dying off. byThom Complete Guide Available
  • F60/N60—On first examination, the F60/N60 looks like a vastly improved F50/N50. Simpler, more logical controls are the primary difference. Unfortunately, I can't recommend the F60/N60 to serious photographers due to the way some of its features work. The "exposure lock" button, for example, is a misnomer. Instead, it takes the camera out of matrix metering and into center weighted metering, and then locks the exposure. This isn't the only switcheroo this camera pulls on the user without visual feedback. If you're planning to use this camera as a point-and-shoot that accepts different lenses, perhaps you'll be happy with it. But if you're planning on getting serious about photography and want to learn to control what the camera is doing, look elsewhere. No longer produced; only available used. Not reliable. Not Recommended. Bottom line: Avoid it, unless you want the camera to make all the decisions for you. The much better F80/N80 isn't that much more money, and is a real step up. Concise instructions.
  • F65/N65—While Nikon simplified the interface and added useful features, such as depth of field preview, the F65/N65 still retains a few of the flaws of the F60/N60, though it doesn't really add any signficant ones. The three biggest faults are these: (1) center-weighted metering only in manual mode (and no spot metering); (2) continuous motor drive only available in Sports program mode; and (3) you can't meter with manual focus lenses (which would preclude many of Nikon's extenders and teleconverters, too). Nevertheless, the feature set is pretty good, and the F65/N65 makes a reasonable backup body for F100 users. I've grown to appreciate this lightweight camera the more I use it. Full review of the Nikon N65. No longer produced; only available used. Reliable. Bottom line: The better F80/N80 isn't that much more money, and is a real step up. But at a lower price, the F65/N65 holds its own. 
  • F70/N70—The F70/N70's gimmicky LCD interface met with a lot of derision. However, unlike the F60/N60 or F65/N65, the F70/N70 gives its user plenty of feedback on what's been set and what the other options are. As such, it's a good learning camera. The F70/N70's specifications are mostly good (other than the 1/125 flash sync), and the camera is arguably a bargain at its current prices. The metering and autofocus systems are quite good for an amateur camera and the range of abilities of this camera are quite sophisticated. The built-in flash isn't very powerful and large lenses get in the way of its coverage, so don't count on not having to buy a Speedlight. Three things keep me from recommending it wholeheartedly to advanced amateurs or aspiring pros: (1) the lack of depth of field (DOF) preview is a serious omission; (2) that LCD interface really does demand that you take your eye from the viewfinder to make many setting changes, which is okay for learning, but frustrating when you need to work fast; and (3) the F80/N80 that replaced it in the Nikon lineup is clearly a better camera and fixes nearly all the F70/N70's shortcomings. No longer produced; only available used. Reliable. Bottom line: A decent choice, but make sure you really won't miss the lack of DOF preview. Concise instructions.
  • F75/N75—Essentially an N65, only all the drawbacks have been addressed. Doesn't add much in the way of features to the N65 (spot metering, some additional focus control), but it gets rid of the embedding of features within features and has probably the nicest AF options of any of the consumer bodies. Full Review of Nikon N75. No longer produced; only available used. Reliable. RecommendedBottom line: The better F80/N80 isn't that much more money, and is a real step up. But at enough reduction in price, the F75/N75 holds its own. 
  • F80/N80—Featurewise, the F80/N80 is nearly the equivalent of the F100. The bad news: 1/125 flash sync speed, 92% viewfinder, consumer-level build quality (e.g., polycarbonate body versus the F100's magnesium body), and it needs CR123A batteries, which aren't available everywhere. But you get a modest built-in flash and a much lighter camera body (the F100 is almost twice as heavy). You also get matrix, centerweighted, and spot metering with AF lenses, multi-spot AF that's fast and accurate, depth of field preview, exposure bracketing, custom functions, and even an on-demand, built-in grid system in the viewfinder. Operationally, if you're familiar with the F5 or F100, you'll immediately feel comfortable with the F80/N80, so it's a great second body for pros (though those CR123A batteries are a nuisance). If you don't subject your cameras to a lot of abuse and are looking for a good value, consider the F80/N80. Full Review of Nikon N80. No longer produced; only available used. Reliable. RecommendedBottom line: An excellent offering that appeals to serious amateurs and professionals alike. 
  • F90x/N90s—My workhorse camera for several years (eventually supplanted by an F100), the F90x/N90s is a no-nonsense, professional caliber tool. Other than perhaps the lack of mirror lockup, 100% viewfinder, and the fact that you must buy the optional databack to access the built-in bracketing capability, the F90x/N90s lacks nothing. The autofocus system was state-of-the-art when introduced, though it's since been eclipsed. Nonetheless, it still works well, especially with AF-S lenses. An excellent all-around camera that's a bargain at the right price. But do yourself a favor and check out the F80/N80 and F100 before making a committment to an F90x/N90s. The former may save you a few bucks, the latter may just be the last film camera you'll buy. Full Review of the Nikon N90s. No longer produced; only available used. Very Reliable. RecommendedBottom line: A field-proven, professional tool. Concise instructions.
  • F100—The heir to the F90x/N90s, the F100 clearly tops the F90x/N90s in every respect except perhaps metering, where it is only marginally better. The extra bucks you'll spend on an F100 over an F90x/N90s provides: much better weather sealing, built-in bracketing control, a logical, better control over minor camera settings (custom functions), faster autofocus that covers a wider area, a better viewfinder (96% coverage and slightly more info), slightly faster frame advance, and the best multiple exposure capability of any Nikon. The F100 is so good that you should consider it if you're considering an F5. Full Review of the Nikon F100. No longer produced; only available used. Very Reliable. RecommendedBottom line: Who needs an F5? Most photographers should save the extra money that an F5 would cost them and buy an F100 with another lens. byThom Complete Guide Available
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